“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson
We always tell each other to just “be ourselves.” Have a presentation or talk to give? Just be yourself. A job interview? Just be yourself, you’ll do fine. A party or date to go to? Just be who you are.
Just. I hate that word. Nothing easy ever follows it.
The reason we constantly have to reassure one another that it’s okay to be ourselves is that it’s the hardest thing in the world. It’s based on two lofty assumptions:
- You know who you are.
- You’re comfortable expressing it in any setting.
Most of us can say neither for ourselves. At least not to the degree we’d like to. I hope what follows alleviates some of that pain.
What You Should Know About Yourself
Soul-searching is a great hobby. You’re never done. The question is: where does self-exploration stop being useful? For me, the following framework marked a clear milestone.
When I first started coaching on coach.me, Tony Stubblebine graciously sent us a book that influenced my coaching a lot. It’s also helped me understand my own behavior a lot better. The name of that book was Better Than Before.
Gretchen Rubin, a former lawyer turned researcher, author and human behavior aficionado, wrote it in 2015, to much acclaim and success. One of the key ideas, if not the centerpiece of the book, was a personality framework called “The Four Tendencies,” which she later expanded upon in its own book of the same title.
Using this framework will help you understand how you deal with your internal and external expectations. This’ll allow you to better manage your life and work. What’s more, you can try to spot other peoples’ tendencies, which’ll help improve your relationships.
Here’s what it looks like:
Where Does This Idea Come From? Well…
When we’re babies, no one expects us to do anything. Our parents celebrate it when we eat, clap when we poop and let out a huge sigh of relief when we finally fall asleep.
As we grow up, this changes. Fast. It starts with “clean your room,” soon turns to “you need to contribute to the household” and ends with “you have to take care of yourself now.”
And yet, somehow, we deal with them. We learn, we struggle and over time, hopefully we get better. All of this, our approach to dealing with our internal and life’s external expectations, is formed subconsciously.
The Four Tendencies framework helps you identify this approach and trust me, there’s a lot to discover. Each tendency is linked to a specific strategy for dealing with the two kinds of expectations we face: resisting or meeting them.
Here’s a little cheat sheet you can use to identify yourself, remember what’s distinctive for each type and how to deal with them better:
Upholders meet inner and outer expectations. They love rules, having a clear plan and are self-motivated and disciplined. Clearly tell them what needs to be done and they’ll lead the way.
Questioners meet their own expectations, but resist outer ones. They need to see purpose and reason in anything they do. Make it clear why what you want from them is important.
Obligers meet other peoples’ expectations easily, but struggle with their own. The must be held accountable by a friend, coach or boss to get things done. They thrive when they have a sense of duty and can work in a team.
Rebels defy both outer and inner expectations. Above all, they want to be free to choose and express their own individuality. Give them the facts, present the task as a challenge and let them decide without pressure.
It’s pretty easy to recognize yourself based on those descriptions alone, but if you’re not sure, you can take a quiz Gretchen designed specifically to help you find out.
How Can This Help You Change Your Habits?
Expectations are a huge determinant of what we do. You juggle all the hopes people have for you, mixed with those you have for yourself. Based on that mix and your tendency, you determine the right middle ground.
Is this still okay? What’s a no-go? Who must I live up to? Who do I disappoint? How much? How often?
Constantly faced with this stressful tradeoff, we default to what our tendency dictates. Meet inner, resist outer. Resist inner, meet outer. And so on.
Knowing what your default is makes it a lot easier to adjust your environment in a way that makes the default lead to the outcome you want.
For example, as an Obliger, forcing yourself to meet a friend at the gym will make it easier to actually go there. A rebel needs the freedom to choose to work out without pressure, and a Questioner might want to keep a list of health benefits ready.
Know your tendency, know your goal, adjust expectations. That’s the idea.
A Word of Advice
It’s easy to get carried away with this stuff. That’s dangerous. When you chisel your tendency in stone, you might know one thing more about yourself and you might even accept it, but you’ll also turn it into an excuse and stop believing that you can change. That’s not the point of this exercise.
Instead of putting yourself in a box, use this concept to get to know yourself better. Identify your strengths, weaknesses, and improve your relationships with others. Be mindful of their tendencies, not just your own. And remember that human behavior is fluid. No personality test can pigeonhole you. Unless you let it.
After all, no matter how much we learn from them, life isn’t lived in frameworks and books, but in the real world, among people. People like you and me, figuring out who they are. Searching, so they can start being themselves.
If you treat them right, maybe they’ll let you do just that.